, Volume 141, Issue 3, pp 351–364 | Cite as

In the path of the Hurricane: impact of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee on watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry from North Carolina to Maine, USA

  • Philippe VidonEmail author
  • Diana L. Karwan
  • A. Scott Andres
  • Shreeram Inamdar
  • Sujay Kaushal
  • Jonathan Morrison
  • John Mullaney
  • Donald S. Ross
  • Andrew W. Schroth
  • James B. Shanley
  • Byungman Yoon


Although many climate predictions suggest that the frequency and intensity of large storm events might increase in the coming decades, few studies document the full impact of such events along their path. Here, we synthesize information on the impact of Hurricane Irene (formed August 21 2011) and Tropical Storm Lee (formed August 30, 2011) on erosion and sediment transport, lake metabolism, riparian hydrology and biogeochemistry, and stream water quality, from North Carolina to Maine. In almost all cases, these storms generated unprecedented changes in water quality (concentrations, loads), from tenfold increases in DOC and 100-fold increases in POC in Maryland, to 100-fold increases in TSS concentrations in Pennsylvania. Overbank flooding and up to 200-year streamflow events were recorded in New York and Vermont. In many cases, particulate loads (e.g. POC, PP, TSS) occurring during Irene and Lee represented more than 30% of the annual load. The dominance of particulate exports over solutes during Irene and Lee is consistent with the mobilization of normally immobile sediment pools, and massive erosion as reported at many locations across the Northeastern US. Several studies reported long lasting (> 1 year) effects of Irene and Lee on cyanobacterial blooms, erosion, or stream suspended sediment concentrations. However, this review also highlighted the lack of a consistent strategy in terms of methods, and measured water quality parameters. This strongly hinders our ability to fully assess the large-scale impact of such events on our environment, and ultimately their impact on our economy and society.


Tropical Storm Lee Hurricane Irene Watersheds Water quality Erosion 



This review is the result of a collaboration effort amongst the authors of this study that started at the AGU Chapman Conference on Extreme Climate Events held in San Juan Puerto Rico in January 2017. We would like to thank the USDA (award # 2016-67019-25280), NSF-EPSCoR (#1641157), USGS, National CZO office, and the US Forest Service IITF for funding this AGU Chapman conference on Extreme Climate Events in San Juan, Puerto Rico and providing travel funds to the attendees. Dr. Peter Groffman provided data for the BES LTER site online for Baisman Run. Significant funding for collection of these data and other data in this paper was provided by the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program (NSF DEB-0423476 and DEB-1027188) and the Critical Zone Observatory Program (CRB CZO - NSF EAR 1331856). White Clay Creek sampling and analysis was enabled by an NSF postdoctoral fellowship to Dr. Diana Karwan (NSF EAR 1144760). The contributions of Andrew Schroth and Donald Ross were supported by the National Science Foundation under VT EPSCoR Grant No. NSF OIA 1556770 and IIA-133046. Laura Medalie of the US Geological Survey provided WRTDS output and useful insight towards its analysis and limitations. She also provided constructive comments on an earlier version of the paper. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philippe Vidon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Diana L. Karwan
    • 2
  • A. Scott Andres
    • 3
  • Shreeram Inamdar
    • 4
  • Sujay Kaushal
    • 5
  • Jonathan Morrison
    • 6
  • John Mullaney
    • 6
  • Donald S. Ross
    • 7
  • Andrew W. Schroth
    • 8
  • James B. Shanley
    • 9
  • Byungman Yoon
    • 10
  1. 1.The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF)SyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MinnesotaSaint PaulUSA
  3. 3.Delaware Geological SurveyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  4. 4.University of DelawareNewarkUSA
  5. 5.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  6. 6.U.S. Geological SurveyEast HartfordUSA
  7. 7.Department of Plant and Soil ScienceUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  8. 8.Department of GeologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  9. 9.U.S. Geological SurveyMontpelierUSA
  10. 10.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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